Pope Francis on Sunday described the war in Ukraine as a "macabre regression of humanity" that makes him "suffer and cry," calling for humanitarian corridors to evacuate people trapped in the Mariupol steelworks.
In Roman Catholicism, the month of May is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Francis asked for month-long prayers for peace in Ukraine.
"My thoughts go immediately to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city of Mary, barbarously bombarded and destroyed," he said of the mostly Russian-controlled southeastern port city, which is named after Mary.
Francis, 85, has not specifically mentioned Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin, since the start of the conflict on Feb. 24, but he has left little doubt which side he has criticized, using terms such as unjustified aggression and invasion and lamenting atrocities against civilians.
"I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, in particular the weakest, the elderly, the children," he said, mentioning "terrible news of children who are being expelled and deported."
Ukraine has said that Moscow has forcefully deported thousands of people to Russia. In remarks published on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said more than 1 million people have been evacuated from Ukraine into Russia since Feb. 24. Lavrov said 2.8 million people in Ukraine have asked to be evacuated into Russia.
Moscow terms its action in Ukraine a "special operation" to demilitarize and "denazify" its neighbor. Ukraine and the West say this is a baseless pretext for war.
Francis called for safe humanitarian corridors for those in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where troops and civilians are sheltering.
He also questioned if everything possible was being done to bring about an end to the fighting through dialog.
"While we are watching a macabre regression of humanity, I ask myself, along with many other anguished people if peace is really being searched for, if there really is a willingness to avoid a continuing military and verbal escalation, if everything is being done to silence the weapons," Francis said.
He urged his listeners to "not give in to the logic of violence, to the perverse spiral of weapons" but to choose a path of dialog.